Physical, Mental, Spiritual Health & KARATE Training
The benefit of being able to defend oneself with karate and kobudo works in favor of mental wellbeing. Karate training provides increase in strength, flexibility, reflexology, aerobics as well as a favorable BMI (body mass index). And one cannot say enough about the importance of karate for self-confidence, self-esteem, and stress relief. In addition to training the body, karate also trains the mind. Through constant training using both sides of the body equally, one can actually expand their mind, physically grow their brain, and even fight the effects of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Studies at San Paulo State University and Federal University of Sao Carlos in Brazil, provide evidence that... "karate training contributed positively to the cognitive and neuromotor functions of an individual with nixed dementia".
Photo of Soke Hausel at the University of Wyoming taken for Martial Arts Fitness magazine. You can vern see his feet at Gilbert Arizona's Lifetime Fitness.
It is vital to note that martial arts improve a person's emotional wellbeing, according to a recent 2018 article from Bangor University in Wales. In a study, older adults, aged 67-93, were asked to take part in either: (1) Karate training, (2) Cognitive training, or (3) Non-martial arts physical training over a 3- to 6-month period. The older adults in Karate Training showed lower levels of depression and a greater level of self-esteem after the training period, compared to the other groups.
In a Italian study, a sedentary group was compared to a group of people practicing karate. The Italian researchers found taking part in karate can improve a person's working memory. The tests showed the karate practitioners had better recall and repeating a series of numbers. Researcher, Dr. Ashleigh Johnstone at Bangor University says - "there is far more to martial arts than its traditional roles. Though they have been practiced for self-defense and spiritual development for many hundreds of years, only relatively recently have researchers had the methods to assess the true extent of how this practice affects the brain".
KARATE & KOBUDO. Traditional or combat karate, is a literal fountain of youth. The reason begins with eating and constant exercise. Those in traditional karate tend to eat less, eat organic, sleep better and train hard! Ever see an overweight active martial artist other than sumo? Many karate practitioners carry a healthy body weight and focus on a diet of fish, raw fruits and vegetables.
Grandmaster Hausel practices karate nearly every day, and trains with weights 3 to 4 times a week as he has done for more than 5 decades, but even he will agree he has a few extra pounds that he just can't get rid of. This is a problem with our food: sugar is in nearly everything we buy to eat and we are being poisoned by a food industry that hooked us on sugar and GMOs.
When Grandmaster Hausel was a martial arts instructor at the University of Wyoming, people were often astounded to see a skinny martial artist/geologist squat 600-pounds at a body weight of 160-pounds (above photo shows Grandmaster Hausel squatting nearly 400 pounds). He even squatted 800 pounds, but not on a regular schedule. This was because of karate and geology. As a geologist, he walked miles in search of gold, diamonds and colored gemstones. As a martial artist, he trained often and taught classes in karate, jujutsu, kobudo and self-defense each semester. Both geology and martial arts kept him healthy and fit.
Practice karate with focus and energy each week and you might still be kicking at 120 years in age. We recently read about an 118-year old martial artist who has good flexibility and could kick the tar out of any 20-year old. Can you imagine being 118-years old? Most of us could reach that age: we just have to watch diet, train hard in traditional martial arts and avoid stress. One man recently earned a 6-degree black belt at the age of 94. And there are many examples of 50, 60, 70 and 80 year old martial artists. Both men and women, no matter what age, benefit from martial arts.
When Soke Hausel trains at the gym, he drinks a bottle of water with lemon juice concentrate & baking soda. Before hand, he drinks a couple of cups of coffee, eats an apple, banana and some nuts. This gives energy and antioxidants for a hard work out. That's part of a formula for physical fitness - eat good - avoid sugar. The other part of the formula is training. Soke Hausel takes little time in-between lifting exercises, and his routine always includes karate!
For warm-up, Soke starts with kicks, a few punches and then karate kata. Karate kata are a beneficial aerobic exercise. Depending on how he feels, he may practice karate and kobudo kata fast or slow - but he always adds full-power focus and visualize each self-defense application in each kata movement. After karate kata, he hits the weights working on arms and hands before moving to a squat rack to stretch, kick and punch. Then it's off to a heavy bag for a series of kicks and punches (he does not wear shoes or gloves). He also does a minimum of 300 sit-ups and on some days, has been known to do 1200 situps. So, that's how he keeps looking fit and beautiful along with teaching 8 karate classes each week.
BENEFITS OF TRADITIONAL KARATE
When practiced properly, traditional karate provides benefits we don’t completely understand. Many benefits arise from stretching, body hardening, breathing, meditation, positive thinking, peace of mind, muscle training and burning maximum calories. Soke Hausel indicates that if he dies tomorrow (God forbid), he will know that he has had a healthy life. Being a Christian, he also notes that when he dies, he will have a place to live.
The Journal of Exercise Physiology compared karate practitioners to other exercise groups. The martial arts group showed a significantly higher number of calories burned and greater overall fitness. The Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal noted that Karate Practitioners lie near the top of all other exercise groups for calories burned per body weight. And Fitness for Weight Loss reported a 150-pound karate practitioner will burn 712 calories, and a 400-pound karate practitioner will burn up to 1,910-calories per hour of training in karate. For example, one calculator shows that a 130-pound person will burn 620 calories during karate practice; and a 215-pound person will burn 1,025 calories per hour while practicing karate. But keep in mind, each type of martial art (as well as exercise) will burn different amounts of calories. For instance, Tai Chi (slow kung fu) will burn less than half the calories as karate!
AGING & MARTIAL ARTS - the FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
The British Journal of Sports Medicine noted differences between middle-aged martial arts practitioners vs non-martial artists. The martial arts group displayed greater aerobic capacity, balance, flexibility, muscle endurance, strength, and less body fat than the sedentary control group. The martial arts group also had an average BMI of 18.9 while the control group had a BMI (body mass index) of 30.8!
Dove Press reported that a test group of 50-year old men enrolled in 1-year traditional karate course for 3 nights a week at 90-minutes each night showed "favorable effects on mood, physical health and improved performance on objective physical training" compared to the non-martial arts group. Another study examined more than 600 centenarians on the island of Okinawa (the birth place of karate) and indicated the Okinawans enjoy the longest average life-span of any group in the world while having good personal health. The study indicated Okinawan people also have the lowest frequency of the three leading killers of Westerners: coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer. The research suggested Okinawan longevity is a result of life-style choices; particularly since Japanese people outside Okinawa do not show the same benefits, and Okinawans who have been Westernized fall prey to the same health issues as Westerners. Compared to Westerners, Okinawans age more slowly and are 80% less likely to get heart disease. They're also 25% less likely to be afflicted with breast or prostate cancer and have a 50% lower risk of contracting colon cancer. They are also less likely to be afflicted with dementia. On average, Okinawan people spend 97% of their lives free of disabilities. These benefits are a result of diet and exercise (including karate and kobudo).
The Okinawan saying "hara hachi bu" (eat until 80% full) provides a guideline to limit daily calorie intake. The typical Okinawan diet includes green and yellow vegetables, whole grains, tofu, fish and other legumes. Little sugar, meat, and dairy is in their diet. The Okinawan people exercise daily, practice karate, and labor in fields, gardens and on fishing boats. And because karate and kobudo has been part of their culture for centuries, a significant percentage train each week in martial arts. Another benefit: murder and robbery is less common on Okinawa since everyone is armed (with feet and hands)!
Dr. Majid Fotuhi & Christina Antoniades (2013) in their book Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance, state there are "known brain shrinkers - obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol...". They further write, "The more you increase your fitness, the more you will build a bigger memory muscle in your hippocampus. For optimal brain growth, I recommend 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, plus 15-minutes of resistance training five days a week". Not only does exercise build larger brains, there is also evidence it resists Alzheimer's disease. Traditional karate provides the right kind of exercise to grow our brains and also provides additional enhancement because the student must learn to use both sides of the body for all techniques, thus providing stimulation to both sides of the brain.
EXAMPLES of SHORIN-RYU KARATE
There are many examples of elderly Okinawan karate practitioners. Soke Seikichi Uyehara, a karate grandmaster, demonstrated kata at the age of 88 in 1992. Seikichi Uyehara was quite agile and ended up living to be 100! Another Shorin-Ryu karate practitioner, Sensei Teru Hendrey, 5th dan, was born to an Okinawa family in 1927. She was exposed to martial arts in 1941 and began a study of Shorin-Ryu Karate in the late 1980s while in her 60s.
Then there was Shugoro Nakazato, 10th dan, who began Shorin-Ryu Karate as a student of Chosin Chibana in 1935 at the age of 16. He became the head of the Shorinkan Shorin-Ryu karate at more than 80 years old. A prominent Kendoka on Okinawa: Sensei Moriji Mochida trains daily at an age of more than 90. Another Okinawan, Sensei Keiko Fukuda began studying judo in 1935 under Jigoro Kano (the father of judo). Sensei Keiko, 10th dan, is 100 years old. Shoshin Nagame, 10th dan, taught Shorin-Ryu Karate until he died at 90. So, practice karate and you might live to be an old man or woman and also kick till your last day.
Periodically, someone will call the Arizona hombu dojo and ask if they are too old to train in martial arts. In November, one person called a couple of times indicating he would like to get into martial arts but figured he was too old - “54 years old”, the guy on the other end of the line stated in an apologetic tone “and I’m over-weight”. Another called and stated she was “likely too old and obese for martial arts”. We don’t understand why these people call, because they never show up. Possibly, they are hoping we will tell them they are too old or too over-weight and are shocked when we tell them we teach seniors at any age and any weight as long as they have the blessing of their doctor - in fact, about 25% of our members are senior citizens.
Martial arts are a lifetime adventure and people can train at any age (other than really young). It wasn’t so long ago, that one one had to be at least 16-years old to train in karate, but there was never a limiting upper age. This is not a bad idea, although there are exceptional young people who have unique focus and skills. For kids and teens, one must also be concerned about using pressure on joints and never allow them to break boards or rocks.
So, when is a person too old to train in martial arts? Martial arts are good for training the mind, the body and helping stave off aging, so there isn’t an upper limit to martial arts training as long as a person is in reasonable health. There are reports of martial artists of extreme ages - such as 113-year old and 120 year-old kung fu masters. And then there was Li Ching-Yuen who passed away in 1933, but purportedly was 200+ years old. While at the University of Wyoming, we had one student who trained into his 80s, and was very fast and powerful.
So, what is it about martial arts that helps people to stay active until they die? Studies show that Okinawa (the land of karate) has more centenarians than any other place in the world. Is this because of karate, diet, exercise, environment, genetics? One study indicates it is genetic. Others suggest it is related to food supply and diet. And others suggest it is related to body health. But none of the studies I’ve read, focus on the one characteristic that makes Okinawans different from other people: traditional karate and kobudo!
There are suggestions that martial arts training provide self-defense against aging, but these suggestions do not provide details and only rely on interviews with martial artists, and seldom differentiate the effects of soft martial arts vs. hard martial arts on people. One of the few studies that examined a variety of effects was reported by the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The benefits of training in a ‘hard’ martial art, according to the Journal, were very positive. Anyone asking if they are too old for martial arts needs to review the literature and get into a traditional martial arts program. According to the Journal, “It was clearly obvious that the martial arts practitioners had better aerobic capacity, balance, flexibility, muscle endurance, and strength” than sedentary middle-aged people. “The only thing they had less of was body fat”.
One thing I’ve often heard was that slow ‘soft’ martial arts provides better flexibility, etc., but I don’t believe this as it is never substantiated by research, only opinion. I suspect that ‘hard’ (hard referring to high impact) martial arts provide better benefits because of the flexibility, the extreme use of one’s muscles, and the development of reflexes. It would be nice to see research oriented towards the effects of many variables such as nutrition, years in martial arts, type of martial art, etc. But for now, it is clear that seniors who want to be healthy, need to ‘kick’ their sedentary habits.
Karate gave me strength. While at the University of Wyoming, I (Soke Hausel) performed 600-pound squats at a body weight of 165 pounds (see comments by Dr. Ernst Arnold). At the 24-hour Fitness in Chandler one trainer introduced me to the manager just so he could see my kicks, kata and punches. I also had a Taekwondo black belt and personal trainer ask about my karate because they had never seen anyone with such power (I was old enough to be their grandfather): I was told by the trainer his client was on the USA Olympic Team. In traditional karate, martial arts are practiced as a weapon rather than for points, so one needs extreme power and focus. I'm periodically questioned about a snap heard when I strike. This is something that comes with focus and karate strike acceleration. It is caused by a sleeve of the karate gi whipping the air.
A few years ago, I tore the meniscus in my knee which had to be repaired by surgery. Its a long story, but it relates to a birth defect I had. After the operation, the medical staff wanted me to sit in a wheel chair and use crutches when I left the facility - but I walked out refusing both. Then I was scheduled for Physical Therapy at DiamondBack in Gilbert. I walked in and was told on my first day I was already many weeks ahead of everyone else with the same injury and was told by the head therapist they only had one other client who was as advanced as me after that kind of surgery - a professional basketball player who was one-third my age. Again, this is related to my karate training and physical fitness. Today, there are 50 million people training in Okinawan karate around the world.- why not make it 50,000,001 and see the benefits. Remember, we are not superhuman, we just learn to use what God gave us.
The following table lists the amount of calories burned in one-hour and reported from two different studies.
Aerobic dancing 420 [325-500]
Traditional dancing 238-350
Exercise and Fitness:
Bicycling 450-700 [500-750]
Calisthenics (moderate intensity) 400
Jogging 500 [700-1160]
Karate 700-930 [600-950]
Pilates - intense 300-400 [235-370]
Running (10 minute mile pace) 850
Stair climbing 430-700 [300-470]
Swimming (vigorous) 500 [400-650]
Walking 300-400 [195-470]
Water aerobics 400-700
Weight lifting (intense) 215-430 [170-550]
Yoga 400-600 [230-370]
Bowling (league play with rotation) 200
Hiking (mountains or high hills - intense) 400-700
Horseback riding (competitive level) 280
Kayaking (intense) 400-700 [500-800]
Rock Climbing [650-1125]
Aerobic Kickboxing 400
Martial Arts 700-950 [590-930]
Tai Chi 400 [230-270]
Baseball (moderate level) 200
Basketball (full court-intense) 400-700 [470-750]
Boxing 700 [350-1100]
Cross-country skiing 500 [470-750]
Fencing (competitive) 420 [350-550]
Golf 180-240 [270-420]
Ice Skating 300 [400-650]
Skiing (downhill) 450 [470-750]
Snow shoeing [470-750]
Soccer (moderate effort - team play) 400
Tennis 450-650 [470-750]